Armageddon (1998) (part 2 of 13)
When the movie opens, we’re out in space and flying past the moon. The earth comes into view, and we get a blast from the past when, much like sci-fi romps of the 50’s, things kick off with an omniscient voiceover narration. In this case, the narration is provided by none other than Moses himself, Charlton “My Cold, Dead Hands” Heston.
Chuck explains, “This is the earth at the time dinosaurs roamed a lush and fertile planet!” We immediately see a big rock headed right for the earth, which Chuck tells us was “six miles wide” and, in case we couldn’t guess, that it “changed all that.”
The Big Rock hits near the Yucatan peninsula. This is accurate, in the sense that there’s really a crater in the vicinity of the Yucatan peninsula, and evidence suggests it was created by the meteor impact that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. There’s one big problem with how the impact is depicted here, however: There was no Yucatan peninsula back when “dinosaurs roamed a lush and fertile planet”. There weren’t even separate continents back then—There was just one big continent, Pangaea. This shot of the earth clearly shows all the continents in their present-day configuration.
This is not good news. We’re just seconds in, and it’s already apparent that no one involved with this movie ever heard of basic scientific concepts like plate tectonics. We’re off to a great start.
Chuck tells us the meteor struck with “the force of 10,000 nuclear weapons”. Obviously, they were going for an impressive soundbyte here, but according to the review of this movie found on Phil Plait’s excellent Bad Astronomy site, they ended up seriously underestimating the amount of force that an asteroid this size would produce. As it turns out, the real figure is closer to 800,000 nuclear weapons, and probably even higher. Two minutes, two egregious scientific errors. At this rate, I’ll be working on this recap until Christmas 2005.
Anyway, we then learn that the meteor sent a “trillion tons of dirt and rock” up into the atmosphere, thus creating a “suffocating blanket of dust” that the sun couldn’t penetrate “for a thousand years”.
From the meteor’s point of impact, a shockwave spreads out across the earth’s surface, turning everything all fiery red and fiery yellow. “It happened before,” Heston warns us. “It will happen again. It’s just a question of when.” I know he’s talking about asteroid collisions here, but to me it’s a much more apt description of the dread that accompanies the release of Bruckheimer-Bay movies.
The title of the movie, looking all fiery, comes sliding out of the fiery earth. Eventually, sparks fly off the title and shoot past us, accompanied by loud laser noises. Finally, the title explodes in a massive ball of fire. It’s all very fiery, in a fiery sort of way. Congrats, movie. I’m already longing to watch something a bit more subdued, like, say, the opening credits of Batman & Robin.
The burning fragments of the movie’s title fly at us, and immediately the earth is blue again. A caption informs us we’re now “65 Million Years Later”. Cut to an astronaut floating in space and attempting to fix a satellite.
He’s grunting and breathing heavily and having a tough time of it, and as shocking as it may sound, this isn’t very realistic. It’s not like changing a flat tire, guys. Astronauts practice repairs like these a thousand times before they’re actually sent up into space.
Anyway, behind him is the space shuttle Atlantis. Cut to the shuttle pilot, who’s reporting back to Houston that “Pete” is “looking really strong”, even though the evidence on display would suggest otherwise.
Pete sweats profusely as we cut to Mission Control, where a NASA medic reports that Pete’s pulse is racing. At this, Dan Truman (played by Billy Bob Thornton) appears and gets on the radio to Pete. He calls him “Hoss” and says he’ll give Pete “a buffalo nickel if you’ll calm down just a little bit.” Wow, Truman’s sure the down-home, home-spun, no-nonsense, not-taking-any-guff type, isn’t he? Hey, Dan, maybe you ought to promise Pete something a little more valuable, like say that vial of Angelina Jolie’s blood you’ve got lying around your house somewhere.
Pete begrudgingly agrees to calm down, and Truman tells him there’s still plenty of time. Given the length of this movie, that’s putting it mildly. Pete continues his work, which seems to consist of randomly moving around oversized Celeron processors. In an aside to one of his staff, Truman “ironically” says, “He’ll be alright.”
The shuttle captain says he’s going to start reeling Pete in, even though Pete doesn’t appear to be finished. Suddenly, some glowing projectiles streak past, piercing the satellite and penetrating Pete’s spacesuit. For some reason, this causes Pete’s face mask to charmingly explode.
Down at Mission Control, everyone panics as the satellite begins to break apart, and they see poor Pete go hurtling off into space. Oddly, even without a face mask, Pete is clearly heard screaming the whole time. I guess Alien was wrong: In space, someone can hear you scream.
We cut back to the Atlantis, and more fiery projectiles slam into the shuttle, piercing its wings and hull. Finally, Atlantis completely explodes, in a bit that was really stomach-churning the first time I tried to sit through this movie. (The fact that the Columbia disaster was still fresh in my memory back then probably wasn’t helping. On a related note, Internet pranksters actually tried to pass off still frames of this very scene as authentic photographs of the Columbia breaking up [!]. There’s really no email forward that’s too dumb for some people to take at face value, is there?)
Down at Mission Control, they’re getting nothing but static on the big viewscreen, so Dan Truman intensely barks at his men to “play that tape back!” They get an instant replay of Pete’s face mask exploding and the satellite exploding. Of course, there are several obvious cuts in this tape, making me wonder if NASA has a full-time video editor working behind the scenes for occasions just like this.
Everyone stares slack-jawed as the shuttle pilot’s final cries of “Houston!” echo through the control room. Cut to a glass door embossed with a pentagonal emblem and the words “SPACE COMMAND – PENTAGON”. Inside, random guys wear headsets and look at air traffic control-type green screens. They yell “military” sounding stuff like “Multiple bogies!” and “Sector five, niner!”
There’s a shot of moving green blips, and a Headset Guy yells, “Multiple tracks headed toward the Atlantic seaboard!” In the latest installment of They Were on Star Trek, this guy is Jim Fitzpatrick, who shows up from time to time as Commander Williams on Enterprise (and who also “starred” in the “action” “thriller” US Seals).
A guy in a navy uniform thinks it could be a “surprise missile attack”, so the next thing we see are pilots scrambling to fighter jets. We’ll never see or even hear about what these pilots find, making me wonder why Bay obviously invested so much time and effort into shooting something that gets less than a few seconds of screen time and doesn’t advance the plot.
There’s a shot of military brass filing into a plush conference room, while a guy on a red phone tells the president that Atlantis just exploded in space. End scene. Again, it’s obvious that shots like these took a lot of time and money to set up. Why bother when all you’re getting is five seconds of footage, at most?
Meanwhile, at Mission Control, Dan Truman is mobilizing his men, dividing them into teams based on all possible causes of the shuttle explosion. He then turns to a staff member whom he calls “Big Ross” (not to be confused with “Hoss”) and asks him to “wake up 11,000 people!” I sure hope Big Ross knows which 11,000 people, because Truman doesn’t say.
Cut to a small telescope observatory. A shrill woman calls out to her husband Karl to let him know his “Stouffer’s pot pie” has been on the table for “ten hours”. The woman is played by Grace Zibriskie, best known as Susan’s mom on Seinfeld. (She’s also putting herself in line to be a future Repeat Offender thanks to her work in Leonard Part 6.) We learn her name is Dottie, and as Dottie speaks, we get pointless, swooping camera work around Karl peering into his telescope.
From out of nowhere, Dottie demands a divorce. Unfortunately, Karl is too wrapped up in looking through his telescope to care. He says he sees “something’s burnin’ up there!” Probably Owen Wilson’s career. He yells at Dottie to get his phone book, which contains the numbers of some guys down at NASA. Weirdly, there’s a jump cut right in the middle of his sentence [?].
Dottie angrily says she’s not wearing a sign that says “Karl’s Slave”, so Karl turns the dials on his Rage Meter up to 11 and cries, “GO GET MY GODDAMN… PHONE BOOK!!!” He continues to scream “GET THE BOOK!” as Dottie rushes out. Abusive, loveless marriages are hilarious, aren’t they?
There’s a pointless shot of the Iwo Jima memorial in Washington, followed by footage of a motorcade with the sun rising behind it. In a limo, a military brass guy says that there were no missile launches, and suggests that what they’re seeing could just be pieces of the shuttle.
A scary-looking general (played by Keith David) yells that it “might be Santa Claus”, but until they know for sure, they’re going to “DEFCON Three”. There’s a swooping shot of the motorcade crossing a bridge, and since this is DC, the movie exercises the Landmark High Visibility Rule and puts both the Lincoln and Washington monuments in the shot.
The symphonic music on the soundtrack gives way to a generic rock song and a glimpse of the New York City skyline. The lyrics to the rock song poetically state, “I’m gettin’ ready for the big time / Someday you’re gonna say I’m big time, too!” Yes, I’m sure I will say that. Someday.
We zoom in on a guy riding his bike across the Brooklyn Bridge, and it turns out to be Scary Movie 3 star Eddie Griffin in the role of Jive-Talkin’ Black Guy #1. In the basket of his bike, we find a really small, ugly bulldog.
Eddie, of course, is Jive Talkin’ to his dog, delivering all sorts of boasts like “We goin’ to the top, baby! Big time!” Hey, just like the song! As he continues into the city, he almost gets run down by cabs, so he yells back that none of them “stop for brothers”. Now that’s… Jive Talkin’!
Next, Eddie’s leading his dog down the sidewalk on a leash. He asks the dog, whose name is “Little Richard”, if he’s “gotta take a dump”. Thankfully, Little Richard doesn’t answer.
Eventually, Eddie sees a store with TVs in the window and gets drawn into a special report about the shuttle explosion. While he’s looking away, Little Richard runs off and bum-rushes a street vendor’s display of little miniature Godzilla figures. I’m assuming this is a weak jab at Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, whose soulless Godzilla remake came out that very same year.
The street vendor, a big Hawaiian guy with a bushy ponytail, freaks out and tries to wrestle a small Godzilla toy from Little Richard’s jaws. Naturally, this causes the toy to let out a recording of the Toho Godzilla scream. Look, I didn’t like this sound effect being prostituted out to Devlin and Emmerich, so I definitely don’t want to hear it in a Michael Bay film.
Eddie comes over just in time to see Hawaiian Guy fighting with the dog over the toy, which has magically transformed into a giant, inflatable Godzilla. Hawaiian Guy yells at Eddie, and Eddie shouts back, “If I wasn’t no Christian, I’d be throwin’ your fat, pineapple-eatin’ ass through the window!” Before this charming slice of New York City ethnic strife can continue, Eddie hears a noise and looks straight up, and sees a piece of flaming debris heading right for him.
In a really stupid moment, the camera starts at a high altitude and spins around and zooms right in on Hawaiian Guy’s face. The object hits, causing a big explosion that sends a parked cab flipping through the air. A cop car hits the cab, which in turn leads us into the obligatory Unbridled Mayhem In The Streets.
Traffic comes to a standstill, and in a cab somewhere, an Asian tourist couple is yelling at the driver. The driver turns out to be played by Mark “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper” Curry as Jive-Talkin’ Black Guy #2. He tells the Asian tourists that the traffic jam could have been caused by anything, even “a terrorist bomb!” Yuk, yuk, those wacky terrorists! They set us up the bomb!
Mark Curry then suggests somebody was murdered, because it’s “payday” and “somebody pro’ly didn’t get that paycheck!” Now that’s… even more Jive Talkin’!
Meanwhile, a dusty Eddie Griffin sits near the edge of a crater in the sidewalk. He’s pulling on the leash and crying out for Little Richard, and as he gets closer, we see Hawaiian Guy’s legs “hilariously” sticking up out of the crater. Down below, it turns out the dog has survived [!], and is somehow hanging by his leash in the subway tunnel below. (Mysteriously, the rest of Hawaiian Guy’s body is nowhere to be seen.) Eddie tells the dog to hang on and cries out, “Somebody dial 911!”
Cut to an array of satellite dishes while random Headset Guys stare at screens and yell that “bogies” are coming in from “all over the place!” I guess this is for the benefit of all those people who missed the exact same scene taking place less than five minutes ago.
Soon, more flaming rocks descend upon New York City. They slam into the street, sending more cabs flying through the air in slow motion. Back in the Jive Taxi, Mark Curry cries out, “Look at that!” and points up at another flaming rock hurtling through the sky. Thanks, Mark, we wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise. A bus is hit by the rock and explodes, and Mark cries, “We at war!” Then in a moment that hasn’t dated one bit, Mark screams that “Saddam Hussein is bombin’ us!”
Meanwhile, flaming rocks hit the Chrysler Building. Geez. Between this and Godzilla, It wasn’t a very good year for the Chrysler Building, was it? Flaming rocks hit Grand Central Station, and as the place is completely destroyed, lots of people flee in terror, including one guy wearing an “I (heart) NY” t-shirt. Hah hah. He hearts New York and he got killed there. Hilarious.
More destruction ensues as Eddie cowers with his dog. Still more cabs fly through the air in slow motion as Mark Curry and the Asian tourists run through the streets. Then, there are more slow motion shots of flying cabs. I swear to God, I’ve seen at least forty cabs flip through the air in the last thirty seconds. Then comes a shot that I’m pretty sure gets edited out of TV broadcasts, where a meteor fragment slams right into the World Trade Center.
Finally, we reach the scene’s topper. The spire of the Chrysler Building, so carefully re-affixed after the events of Godzilla, breaks off and comes tumbling to the ground yet again. Only, in this movie, Manhattan hasn’t been evacuated, so we actually get to see the bodies of office workers plummeting to the ground along with it. Nice, guys. Real nice.
(I must admit that it was this moment, coupled with the earlier shuttle explosion, that completely turned my stomach and made me want to turn the movie off. I know I can’t really blame this on the filmmakers, but yet I was sickened all the same. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of bad movies in my life, but this is probably the first time one was so awful that it literally made me nauseous.)
Back at Mission Control, Dan Truman gets a call, and on a red phone no less, so you know it’s important. The guy on the other end turns out to be the same Scary General who made the earlier Santa Claus comment. He reports they’ve been hit all the way from “Finland to South Carolina” and demands to know what’s going on.
Truman finally reveals it’s a meteor shower, long after it was apparent to everyone in the audience. Scary General says the President is demanding answers, and he wants to know if the worst is over. In a total ADD moment, we cut to a New York City street for a half-second shot of flames shooting up out of a crater. Then we instantly cut back to Truman, who tells Scary General that they have “11,000 people” at NASA working on it. Wow, so I guess Big Ross woke up the right people, after all.
There’s a wide shot of all of New York City with smoke rising up from everywhere. In yet another skillfully prescient moment, there’s a big hole in one tower of the WTC, and the top of the other tower is flaming and smoking. You know, I didn’t think there was a way to make this movie even harder to watch, but somehow Osama Bin Laden found it.
Soon, Dan Truman gets a call from party guy Karl over at his telescope observatory. Karl reads off coordinates, while a NASA guy tells Truman that the FBI has traced Karl’s location. Call me crazy, but I get this hunch that Karl’s not going to be allowed to share what he knows. Not that this will ever factor into the plot in any way.
An oblivious Karl asks if the person who finds the asteroid gets to name her. He wants to name it after his wife Dottie. Dottie looks flattered until Karl explains why: “She’s a vicious, life-suckin’ bitch from which there’s no escape!” A more fitting description of this movie, you will not find.
Soon, someone in Houston gets in touch with some guys in white lab coats, and asks them to point the Hubble Telescope at Karl’s coordinates. And one of the White Lab Coat Guys is pretty obviously being played by Michael Bay. Look, Hitchcock cameos were something to look forward to; This is just plain annoying.
Cut to space, as the CGI Hubble Telescope swoops past. Immediately, the Lab Coat Guys are examining a photo of the asteroid. One guy cries, “It’s enormous!” Then we instantly cut to a NASA technician showing off the photos to Truman and the rest of the gang at Mission Control. Then there’s a glimpse of Air Force One. Are you getting how scattershot the editing is here?
By the way, Air Force One has been helpfully identified as “Air Force One” with a caption. Because I’m sure most viewers wouldn’t be able to identify a big jumbo jet with “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” on the side and the Presidential Seal on the nose.
Onboard, the President, an old white dude, is teleconferencing with the folks at Mission Control. The NASA technician showing off the photos is playing coy and referring to the object as an “anomaly”. The President yells, “Enough anomaly horseshit!” and demands to know what it is.
Truman says it’s an asteroid, and again, it’s long after everybody in the audience has already figured it out. Truman says, “It’s the size of Texas, Mr. President!” And you don’t want to mess with Texas!
The President can’t believe they didn’t see something this big sooner, so Truman explains that their sky-watching budget only allows them to “track three percent of the sky”. And, he adds, “It’s a big-ass sky.” That it is, Billy Bob. That it is.
Referring to the meteors that hit New York, Truman calls them “nothing”, and says they were “the size of basketballs and Volkswagens”. He says he doesn’t know if the asteroid will hit earth yet, but his people are working on it. The President asks what kind of damage they could be looking at.
|Truman: Total, sir. It’s what we call a global killer. The end of mankind. Doesn’t matter where it hits. Nothing would survive. Not even bacteria. [?]|
“My God,” the President gasps. “What do we do?” Suddenly, a NASA technician runs in, holding up a report with a paragraph circled in red. He breathlessly yells, “We have eighteen days before it hits earth!” And I got an F on my term paper!